The eighteenth century was the start of the end of civilisation. That was due to burning fossil fuels to power society’s energy needs instead of using muscle, and renewable power. Now our end is near and we are speeding it up. Our hopes are fading as fast as we try to grow our economy. So we flutter about in the hope of finding that “Magic Pudding” that will give us everlasting energy and resources.

In the late 18th century the world population was less than 1 billion people. Coal doubled that, and oil has managed to increase it to 7.7 billion. That’s 8 times more people on a planet, which is now showing the strain due to depleting resources and degradation of the biosphere. We have achieved that by burning fossil fuels, which is now involved in all aspects of our life. Although coal produces 38% of world energy, it, like all other energy sources it relies on oil to maintain it’s output. Therefore without that fuel there would be very little coal or any other source of energy including solar and wind. Oil has become our primary and essential source of energy for 60 years and is the only thing that can support an increasing population.

We need to understand how we got into this fine mess. It wasn’t planned we just muddled along trying to get an advantage over other social groups and dominate nature. So we still tended to see forests as a resource if they can be used for timber, but if those trees are on a possible agriculture site or over a mineral deposit then that is seen as a waste of good land. Contrasted to that, when we lived as hunter-gatherers we saw ourselves as a part of nature; therefore there was no attempt to use it as our exclusive pantry.

Our pre-agriculture life style
Human nature, at its best, will naturally occur when people live in small intimate bands. Studies by anthropologists reveal that our natural social life for nearly all human existence occurred when we lived in groups of no larger than our ability to know everyone’s character. In the last few hundred thousand years we humans showed that we have outstanding abilities that enabled our ancestors to live in all mammalian-liveable parts of the planet, and also we were able to cross short distances of sea as hunter-gathers. (Our hand has made us the most wonderful life that ever lived.)

Those studies also showed that hunter-gatherers had practically no personal belongings. Parents did not own their children as they are a part of their band and young children up to 5 years old would suckle from any lactating woman and may not know their mother or father until much older, which gave all individuals a secure life. Furthermore, in that band it’s unlikely that a child has siblings of near the same age but they all have older and younger ones so there’s no hierarchy or competition. This equalises everyone for their whole life, but that doesn’t mean they were evaluated as having or required to have the same ability, temperament, and interest.

Consequently hunter-gatherers weren’t competitive or demanding. Also sharing was their natural way of life not only within one’s band but between bands and other life. They saw themselves as a part of life, one of many living things spending most of their lives socializing. Hunting and gathering for their food was a relatively small part of their life, and it was also a social affair as it might still be today in a few workplaces. People in small communities who had very few tools or things to look after weren’t motivated by greed and therefore individuals who had little feeling for others had no opportunities to express greed or to dominate.

However, when bands grew well beyond a hundred individuals, it started to become unwieldy and chaotic therefore one would welcome a leader to maintain order. But large social groups have to increasingly rely on agriculture and that was the creation of work, which was an opportunity for private property within a social setting which is for the most social life a contradiction. Also leaders tend to lose their concerns for their fellows and with ambitions they will want a larger domain creating disputes within and between different social groups.

Due to population growth leaders were then seen as a different class able to control their community and to satisfy their egoism it results in conquest and oppression. Large populations opened up opportunities for “psychopaths” (those that have ability but little to no feelings for others) to use the crowd as a way to get whatever they wanted. The end result is civilisation with its violent ways to exploit whoever and whatever is vulnerable in conflicts that are overt and covert.

However, societies must maintain themselves, so we need food, shelter and all the services to sustain a healthy happy life with the least stress on individuals and our planet. To achieve that, we need a different life-style, not because it would be better for us at this stage, but for our offspring survival.

Past global temperature rises were due to planetary causes. But temperature rise now is due to burning fossil fuels and deforestation. Scientists in that discipline estimate we have a decade to become sustainable or our offspring will suffer a horrible demise.

We are losing the ice and snow cover from the arctic it is changing the albedo thus it accelerates the rate our planet warms making it vulnerable to uncontrollable forest fires. They now occur simultaneously on the northern and southern hemispheres, it never happened before nor has Alaska and Siberia had forest fires. So now we already have out-of-control bush fires as predicted 20 years ago. I remember in the 1990’s reading in the New Scientist that there will be uncontrollable fires within the first half of this century. That then was a problem for someone in the future, which is as yet ours to deal with today.

At present we are fulfilling the needs of an economy that demands continual growth that can only be temporally powered with fossil fuels that are polluting and insulating the biosphere raising temperatures to perilous levels. To survive we will need to live a peaceful cooperative life, centred on helping each other, which will also satisfy our psychological nature. However, due to the irresponsibility of civilised leaders our survival is at stake. Life will be difficult until we can stabilise living conditions back to pre-fossil fuels days. And with a bit of luck we can make it.

To have a better happier life we need to have fewer activities, reduce our population, and enjoy life instead of competing to have more and dominate whoever and whatever we can. We need to use the least amount of stuff, and live within the planet’s resources by being a part of its life. That means abandoning the civilised hierarchical control that evolved to a wealth dominated civilisation.

The beginning of the end for civilisation started when James Watt’s steam engine replaced water, wind and animal power as that new power could be used where, when and how much of it is needed. But it did a lot more besides; it introduced the new science of thermodynamics as that understanding is the main reason the planet can temporally support our 7.7 billion people. Oil is involved in all aspects of our life and is essential for our present way of living, but if we use it for much longer it will make our children’s life a nightmare to their bitter end.

The effect of using fossil fuels (particularly oil) had on our planet is still largely ignored by world leaders, for their moment is all important. Oil is involved in all aspects of our lives, it has shaped our cities, our economy is totally dependent on it, and it will destroy us and maybe life if we keep using it. Many of our present activities are dependent on oil as the only source of energy to be viable, such as air and sea travel and long distance roads and rail transport; it has become the linchpin for the primary industries.

The outlandish use of air transport is our most dishonest activity as flying at 10 km high the burned fuel is about 5 times more effective as a global warming gas than at sea level; plus planes use about 20 times more oil per km than trains do. That is grossly unfair. We cannot survive with such unfairness, plus our increasing population will boost that disparity and reduce our ability to cooperate for our survival. All competitive activities are antisocial and wasteful, they also open up opportunities for deceitful interactions in all fields the ultimate being warfare an integral aspect of civilisation. We must stop competing as soon as we can and encourage cooperative and compassionate interaction.

We are on an extinction course and our leaders can only take us to our demise in a faster or a slower way. That is due to the indoctrination we all received during our formative years; that is education, which is tuned to increase our activities in as many domains possible. That education, if maintained will end life. However, due to intense competition and specialisation we cannot be as well aware of other fields’ activities to be concerned and understand the significance of the whole as it appears just a distraction.

We are now close to the end of economic growth, as we see interest rates going down towards negative and the cost of living going up due to deteriorating climate and rising the cost of energy. Sadly there’s no other way of living that current leaders can contemplate.  Nevertheless, most of us are not so fixed mentally on an economy that must grow. Whiles our survival as individuals and for our offspring is paramount there is hope for life.

Our dependence on fossil fuels is terminal and without it our planet can’t sustain our present population for much longer even on a survival course. Therefore we have a multitask effort to drastically reduce our birth rate and stop working on non-essential matters, and with a bit of luck we might be able to save ourselves by also changing from a growth to a minimal economy.

Presently the physical effort we exert doing our work, is negligible as nearly all of it is done by machines using mainly fossil fuels. But to keep fit one pays to exercise at a gymnasium, fulfilling one need, then drive our car to work and back home. It is obvious by just walking to where we need to go; we can solve many problems with that action. Plus, when walking we can talk to people and observe one’s community in safety. Those attributes will be enhanced by living in a more compact way without parking space, wide roads, and traffic noise. This will make light rail the ideal way to get around in towns as they are the most energy efficient transport. Unfortunately most of outer city areas were built to satisfy the needs of cars but those cars have and are playing a devastating part against our survival.

Indoctrination, but we call it education, is really our biggest problem that fixes our mindset, which under extreme situations can be impossible to change. The prime purpose of education in any civilisation is to justify its way of life; therefore, truth is subjugated to the needs of the system in control at the time. Reality is distorted to fit the needs of those who are dominant during that period, such as the geocentric view of the universe by the church of that time. Honesty in civilisation is subjugated to the needs of the few who control and dominate.

Historian’s version of capitalism is centred on a growing political-economic system that has supposedly produced its amazing growth due to its system ignoring the role played by fossil fuels and the devastation it is leaving our planet in. As resources are used they diminish requiring more energy to extract and process the less easy ones to obtain, however, cheap world energy is declining effecting world economy.

Oil has replaced gold and fiat money as a regulator of activities and a gauge of prosperity. The energy used is hardly noticed by historians and economists; they see it as a side issue. However, there is no life without energy. That is nothing happen unless there is energy in the system, and oil is a very concentrated and near-universal in supplying capitalisms ravenous needs. There is no other. Politicians are good at expressing their lack of understanding without knowing it.

We need a new non-competitive holistic education that’s base on cooperativeness to enjoy life and know and understand it. The motivation is the pleasure in seeing everyone achieving a satisfying life within a pleasant and vibrant environment.

I’m always amazed how we can do so many things so easily yet even climate scientists using their reductionist way of investigation misunderstood the speed of the change. They estimate the present climate would have taken a further 30 to 40 years to be what we are experiencing now. The error is due to their reductionist investigative method which can give spectacular information but it sacrifices a little understanding.

Everything we do requires energy, whatever moves and changes does so because energy is used. Therefore energy must be present for any substances to be known to exist. So a state of no energy does not exist, it’s the end of matter, as it no longer matters.

To illustrate the difference between knowing and understanding as I see it for this piece is, knowing is like the information my computer can give me, which is vast, but understanding that data is up to me, to understand its significance for it to have much value. For most of us it is much easier to know than have an understanding and this is so for examiners to evaluate people’s ability. Exams are centred on knowing as gauging understanding is more involved. From what I have been told even PHD students may have little understanding of their subject yet remember well the information but in a superficial way. This is one of many outcomes of competition.

Knowing relevant information gives an advantage in a competitive situation, but understanding that information needs knowing other relevant associated information and need much more time, requiring considerably more effort, placing those who search for an understanding at a disadvantage in a competitive setting. So we know a great deal about the physical world but little about human societies and how best to live in harmony due to that competitiveness.

There’s no need to take away affluent people’s wealth, as all we need to do is take their power to use it as they feel. They can have whatever they have but wouldn’t have free use of it as we must have rationing as we had during WWII but more comprehensive to suit the dire situation. Billionaires can keep their wealth and accumulate and increase it as long as society determines where and how it will be spent. To maintain honesty in allocating resources we must ditch democracy, as that is a competitive activity and we need a collaborative life style to be honest. There are better ways a society of multi-interest can represent its self ((Wikipedia sortition (also known as selection by lotallotment, or demarchy) is the selection of political officials as a random sample from a larger pool of candidates,[1] a system intended to ensure that all competent and interested parties have an equal chance of holding public office.)

But soon, it may be obvious to one and all, that we have one overwhelming interest of survival.

Lionel Anet is a member of Sydney U3A University of the Third Age, of 20 years standing and now a life member


SIGN UP FOR COUNTERCURRENTS DAILY NEWS LETTER


 

Comments are closed.